Topeka Organizers of a newly formed statewide group say frustration is building among Kansans who are concerned about recent policy decisions by first-term Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
From closure of socials services offices to elimination of state funding for the arts, supporters of Kansans United in Voice and Spirit say it’s time they made their concerns known. A rally is scheduled Sept. 16 on the Statehouse steps in Topeka to air differences with Brownback and the new administration.
Crystal McComas, a clinical social worker in Lawrence, is organizing Kansas United along with Tamara Werth, a Lawrence psychiatrist. The two said the galvanizing issue for them was the decision to close the city’s Social and Rehabilitation Services office. After much discussion, the city and Douglas County agreed to pay a portion of the office’s rent to keep the center open.
McComas said the governor seems to be moving ahead with his agenda “when the average Kansan has questions.”
“We believe that Kansans in general didn’t fully understand” what his election meant, she said. “He feels he has a mandate to make changes in the policies Kansans hold dear.”
Werth said the response to the rally has been good and residents across the state are excited to have an opportunity to have their voices heard. She is anticipating hundreds of participants for the weekday rally and is using social media to spread the word.
Brownback’s spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag didn’t respond directly to the concerns about the policy decisions, or whether the governor is ignoring some residents in the process. She repeated the message Brownback has uttered since the 2010 campaign that the focus is about getting the state economy on solid footing.
“Since January nearly 11,000 private-sector jobs have been created and working with the Kansas Legislature, we turned a deficit into a more than $100 million ending balance,” Jones-Sontag said. “We’ve had some other successes recently, but still have much more work to make our great state even better.”
Gerry Heil, a semi-retired Hays resident, said she hopes the rally can bring enough people together to force the governor to take a step back and see what’s happening.
“What he’s done has been a tragedy,” Heil said. “I hope people realize that he was a mistake.”
She points to the new regulations on abortion and laws aimed at blocking funding for Planned Parenthood services in Kansas. Heil also said many people question why Brownback has hired so many people from outside Kansas to fill key positions.
Heil said supporters of Kansans United are looking “to come together as part of a movement that is bigger than ourselves to help our state become more balanced.”
Kansas Republican Party Chairwoman Amanda Adkins said disagreement over policy decisions was a healthy part of the democratic process, and she encouraged residents regardless of political party to be passionate about issues they hold dear.
Adkins, who was appointed by Brownback to be head of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet, said the governor was taking a “long view” of where Kansas needs to be to have a growing economy while providing services in the most efficient manner.
She said Brownback was receiving diverse opinions as to where the state should go.
“From the governor’s perspective, and mine, it is a positive thing for people to show up and share their comments and passion for the state,” she said. “The Kansas Republican Party and the governor support the right to peaceably assemble. Whenever someone has a strong opinion on something, we welcome that.”
Katie Krider, a retired French teacher in Lawrence, said she’s bothered by the Christian ideology that the administration seems to advocate in new policies, such as faith-based social services and promoting marriage.
“Christians don’t have a lock on moral authority,” Krider said. “The fact they claim to be acting as Christians is very offensive. It’s not the Christianity that I know.”
Krider said the decision in July to close social services offices statewide may have been the tipping point to push people into action.
“He doesn’t seem to be a very good listener. He seems to have his agenda set and damn the torpedoes full speed ahead,” Krider said. “It would be nice if he would listen.”